High Standards

“Some people say we have to raise standards as if this is a breakthrough. Like really, yes, we should. Why would you lower them?” Sir Ken Robinson

 “The task of teaching is never quantifiable. If everything I learned in High School is a measurable objective, I haven’t learned anything.” Ethan Young

Having high standards is different from dictates (dictates are what we now refer to as standards). It’s the difference between having high standards in who you date and being told you can only date 5’8” to 5’10” brunettes who net $80k or more a year…you know, because of standards and competing with China and the 21st century and all that. The more you narrow the scope of what teachers and students are “accountable” for, the more you limit possibility and choke out diversity from all experience.

Some of you would say that that’s why we should test every conceivable subject, or that every year should be a testing year…to make certain ungrateful teachers do their jobs and lazy students learn their stuff. You’re missing the whole point of learning and the whole point of life. First, you can’t test everything, because that’s silly. You aren’t going to get everyone to some weird homogenous definition of proficient in auto tech, culinary, theology, back packing, sailing, computer programming, horseback riding, and being an entrepreneur. You could pick a few subjects and put them in a hierarchy, which is what is done, but that has nothing to do with students and everything to do with management and control. Second, standardized tests don’t predict anything except a score on the next standardized test, so they are nearly worthless anyhow. It’s a dystopian future where the only fragment of what education was is a copy of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader. Some Mad Max desert war lord is demanding everyone answer 65% percent of the trivia correctly or get sent to the salt mines.

Does anyone ever look at these tests, outside of students and educational staff? At least the tests you’re allowed to look at without getting arrested? Exhibit A: Mathematics Test Book 1, Grade 5, May 2010. Sample question: Measure a toothbrush in centimeters. Question 1: Convert a yard into inches. Question 2: How many degrees are in a triangle? Question 3: Pick the correct “greater than/less than” thing. And so on. It’s trivia. If it were a movie, it would be funny. Nobody remembers this crap after a single summer vacation…the “summer slump” exists because what is learned is unimportant. If the summer slump were such a serious thing, we would continue to study for our fifth grade state tests well into our fifties and sixties.

I have English Language Learners who have to take five of these things – in High School, the test questions are no less disjointed and irrelevant – they take five Regents tests times six hours each. Most of them fail once or twice. Many of them come back 5 times for a single test. Some of them have to take two in a single day – the board of Regents ought to have to take 12 hours of standardized tests in a day (we hold them to very high standards!) Here’s a math question for you…what’s 5 tests * 3 tries each * 6 hours? Many of them turn twenty one years old after five or six years of High School, having nearly a hundred hours of standardized testing in a language that is not their own, unable to move on with their lives because they didn’t “master” someone’s idea of a joke. They couldn’t win the Jeopardy game because it was in someone else’s language and the questions reflected someone else’s idea of “educated”. I believe in caring for individuals and free thinkers and diversity of talent and experience. Mandating that students live up to other people’s ideas of “high standards” is none of those things.

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